Around 35% of city residents in Europe suffer from a chronic health condition. One such condition is COPD, which is characterised by progressive obstruction of airflow into the lungs, leading to shortness of breath. This often limits patients’ ability to carry out daily activities, including exercise. And the less physical activity a person does, the more the disease progresses. It is therefore important to understand what factors—other than the disease itself—may influence physical activity in these patients.
To this end, a team led by Judith Garcia-Aymerich, Head of the Non-Communicable Diseases and Environment Programme, set out to estimate the association between the urban environment to which COPD patients are exposed and their physical activity (number of steps per day), exercise capacity (distance covered in 6 minutes of walking) and experience (perceived difficulty).
The study used data from 404 COPD patients from a multicentre study conducted in five coastal towns in Catalonia. For each patient, the researchers determined the population density and length of pedestrian streets in their neighbourhood, the slope of the terrain, and long-term exposure to traffic noise, NO2 and particulate matter (PM2.5).